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David Bowie Shared His Invisible Mask

1980s | October 12, 2019

David Bowie starred as the Goblin King in Labyrinth. (vanityfair.com)

You may remember David Bowie as the innovative and influential English singer, songwriter, and actor who elevated rock concerts to a theatrical level and tragically died in 2016 along with a slew of other beloved entertainers. David Bowie was certainly provocative, creative, and groundbreaking in his professional life, but fans rarely got a glimpse of the notoriously private superstar's personal life. One story that was recently shared about the performer does, however, give us insight into the mind of David Bowie. Here is the story of the time David Bowie shared his invisible mask. 

Bowie had a unique way of connecting with people. (independent.ie)

A 30-Year Secret

Though we're only just learning about this story, it took place about 30 years ago. According to a man named Paul Magrs, it happened at a private London screening for David Bowie's soon-to-be-released fantasy film, Labyrinth, the 1986 Jim Henson work that featured the legendary rocker as the Goblin King.

Bowie learned at an early age that he would have to forge his own path. (bbc.com)

An Autistic Boy

Through some stroke of luck, an unnamed child who Magrs claims to have befriended in adulthood was in the audience. As Magrs notes, back in those days, the boy would likely have been described as "shy" or "withdrawn," but in reality, he had what we now recognize to be autism. It's not hard to see why David Bowie felt a special connection to this child.

David Bowie became a champion of the underdogs and misfits. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Forging His Own Path

From an early age, it was clear that David Bowie was not designed to be like everyone else. He didn't fit into traditional molds. He realized that he would never be happy following the path that others set for him and needed to chart his own course, however unconventional that may be. It worked for him, but not without a price. He struggled with the fame he received and the very public life that he lived. He acknowledged that, at times, he wanted to withdraw from the spotlight and hide from the world. 

Bowie earned praise from autism and Asperger organizations. (biography.com)

A Soft Spot For Misfits

He had a soft spot for misfits and outcasts---people who, like him, simply didn’t fit in---and they responded in kind. Specifically, as his fame grew, Bowie amassed more and more fans who fell on the autism spectrum. Key lyrics in his songs seemed to speak to members of this community. In fact, Bowie has been recognized by various autism advocacy groups for his contributions. 

Bowie was open about his struggles with fame. (latimes.com)

A Chance Encounter

Back to that day in 1986. After the movie, there was a meet-and-greet with the actors. According to the story, the young boy was apprehensive about meeting David Bowie, but Bowie was sympathetic to his feelings. As the boy later recounted, due to his overwhelming shyness, it was arranged that he would meet Bowie in a separate room that was much quieter and less chaotic. Bowie and the boy conversed for about a half hour. Bowie, recognizing that the boy was scared, told him "I am always afraid."

Bowie found his own way to face the world. (pitchfork.com)

Sharing His Invisible Mask

After his confession to the boy, Bowie pantomimed taking off an invisible mask and handing it to the boy. He explained that he always wears an invisible mask and made use of its magical properties. The mask, he said, does not eliminate the fear, but it gives the wearer confidence to face the world. The mask allowed the wearer to see through it while looking at other people, but it prevented other people from seeing into the private world inside their heads. Bowie told the child "It makes me feel a bit better" before handing the "mask" to the boy. The boy put the mask on. 

Bowie's mask gave him confidence. (livekindly.co)

A New Magic Mask

The young boy put on Bowie's invisible mask and immediately felt less conspicuous and uncomfortable. Bowie then pantomimed an invisible magic wand that he whipped through the air to produce another invisible mask to replace the one he'd given the boy. "I wear a mask every day," he explained.

David Bowie was a great person, in private and in public. (bbc.co.uk)

A 30-Year-Old Mask

Three decades later, Paul Magrs described how the man who was once that boy, while recounting his story, took off the mask. He showed it to Magrs and explained that, after all these years, he still wears Bowie's magical invisible mask every single day because it helps give him the confidence he needs to face a world that oftentimes doesn't understand him and sees him as cog that doesn't quite fit right. The magic in David Bowie's invisible mask lies not in the mask, but in his unique way of connecting with others, like the young boy, and relating to their feelings. While most of us knew David Bowie as a sultry, unorthodox rocker, the true David Bowie was a sensitive, inspiring, empathetic person with a knack for connecting with the misfits of the world. 

Tags: 1980s | autism | David Bowie

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.